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John Robert Brown Edit Profile

federal judge

John Robert Brown was a United States federal judge of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1950s and 1960s, one of the "Fifth Circuit Four" pivotal in the civil rights movement.


Brown, John Robert was born on December 10, 1909 in Funk, Nebraska, United States. Son of Electrical Engineer and Elvira (Carney) Brown.


Bachelor of Arts Nebraska, 1930. Doctor of Laws, University Nebraska, 1965. Juris Doctor, University Michigan, 1932.

Doctor of Laws, University Michigan, 1959. Doctor of Laws, Tulane University, 1979.


He received an A.B. from the University of Nebraska in 1930, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1932. He was in private practice as an admiralty lawyer with the firm Royston Rayzor in Houston and Galveston, Texas from 1932 to 1955, except for a four-year stint as a United States Army major during World War II, from 1942 to 1946. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 22, 1955, and received his commission on July 27, 1955.

Brown became known as one of the "Fifth Circuit Four"--Brown, Elbert Tuttle, Richard Rives, and John Minor Wisdom--so called because of a series of decisions crucial in advancing the civil rights of African-Americans. At that time, the Fifth Circuit included not only Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas (its jurisdiction as of 2005), but also Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the Panama Canal Zone. Brown served as chief judge from 1967 to 1979.

He was crucial to the administrative actions splitting the new Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Georgia and Florida) from the Old Fifth Circuit which included those states up to September 1981, leaving the current Fifth Circuit with Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. He went on senior status on July 20, 1984, but never completely retired until his death in 1993 in Houston, Texas. The Judge John R. Brown Admiralty Moot Court Competition was established shortly before Judge Brown's death and is now held annually, sponsored by the University of Texas School of Law.

The Judge Brown Admiralty Collection at the O'Quinn Law Library at the University of Houston Law Center is named in his honor.


  • Bar: Texas 1932.


Brown was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 25, 1955, to a seat vacated by Robert Lee Russell.


Chairman Harris County Republican Committee, 1953-1955. Served from lieutenant to major Transportation Corps United States Army Air Force, 1942-1946. Member American Bar Association, Texas Bar Association, Houston Bar Association, American Judicature Society, American Law Institute, American Society Average Adjusters (honorary), Maritime Law Association United States, Association Interstate Commerce Commission Practitioners, Order of Coif, Phi Delta Phi, Sigma Chi.

Clubs: Houston, Houston Country.


Married Mary Lou Murray, May 30, 1936 (deceased 1977). 1 child, John R.; married Vera Smith Riley, September 14, 1979.

Electrical Engineer Brown

Elvira (Carney) Brown

Mary Lou Murray

Vera Smith Riley

John R. Brown